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MLB's Other Problem: Umpires

It took the league years to address the PED issue. It's taking even longer to address the umpire problem.

The next generation of Porters.
The next generation of Porters.
Al Bello

On the very same Tuesday when Alex Rodriguez was officially suspended by Major League Baseball for his involvement in the Biogenesis scandal, home plate umpire Terry Porter incorrectly called Brett Gardner out at the plate on a phantom tag in a game the Yankees would lose to the White Sox by one run.The fact that two issues dogging baseball could be so prominently featured in the same game is an amazing coincidence. Unfortunately, only the PED issue is being addressed at the moment, while poor umpiring resulting in incorrect or illegitimate results seems to be of little concern to Bud Selig and the powers that be. After all, even getting replay reviews for home runs was like pulling teeth. He seems to adore the "human element".

But back to the initial play at hand. Porter took an angle so atrocious that any call he would have made would at best have been a guess. He could have easily positioned himself parallel to the third base line, where he would have had an excellent vantage point for viewing both the runner and the tag. Instead, he opted to position himself behind the catcher, parallel to the first base line and perpendicular to the runner, where the difference in depth between the tag and Gardner's leg would be indistinguishable. If this is a training or competence issue, obviously it needs to be remedied and is a problem that cannot be ignored. But this also served to remind me of three of the other problems I have with umpiring right now.

Not Enough Replay

This would have also prevented Porter's gaffe. The fact that only home runs are eligible for replay is an idea so patently absurd it makes me want to drink moonshine. As though scoring plays were not events that could have enormous impacts on the legitimacy of the outcomes of baseball games. Sorry Team A, that run that would've scored on a single and tied the game just isn't important enough to pause the game for a few minutes. Dingers need only apply. Replay expansion to all scoring plays is an absolute must.

Umpires Still Calling Balls and Strikes

I used to mostly get annoyed at the lack of uniformity amongst MLB umpires when it came to strike zones, but I'm at the point now where I think it should all just be computerized. It's the 21st century. There are more accurate ways to determine whether or not a pitch is a strike than to have one man stand and look over another man's shoulder. The technology is already in use to track pitches and for entertainment purposes during many baseball broadcasts, MLB should make use of it. A definite sign that strike zone accuracy needs to improve is the new emphasis on valuing catchers that frame pitches well. It's essentially a question of which catchers can trick umpires the best. Do away with the human element, and you stop rewarding teams that acquire catchers for their ability to be dirty little sneaks.

Confrontational Umpires

There are far too many umpires that enjoy a good fight for my tastes. I know players can be hotheads (see: Ortiz, David) but umpires really need to be trained to wait as long as is absolutely possible to give a player or coach the hook. And most of all, umpires need to stop jawing at players as they walk away. It seems to happen all too frequently where a player will be yelling at an umpire as they are progressing towards the dugout, only to have the umpire re-engage them and turn the argument even uglier. Umpires need to be the peacekeepers, not the instigators.

I do appreciate the difficulty inherent to being a MLB umpire and I know it takes a lot of learning and training to become one. But there are still far too many calls blown and far too many umpire mistakes having an impact on the game. Umpires should be phased out of areas in which they are not absolutely necessary and assisted in other areas where they are, and it needs to be done sooner than later. But considering Selig's adherence to tradition over progress, I don't expect radical changes anytime soon.

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